Sunday, January 20, 2008

Sermon: Septuagesima

20 January 2008 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA
Text: Matt 20:1-16

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us about His Kingdom – which is not of this world – by way of the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard.

In the kingdom of this world, we demand to be treated fairly. If we work twelve hours, we expect to be paid twelve times as much as the person who works one hour. In fact, we may even be entitled to time and a half for anything over eight hours. Our notion of equality demands equal pay for equal work. If we were to find out that a co-worker with less experience is making more money, we would likely demand a raise – feeling that we are entitled to make at least as much as the next person.

In the kingdom of this world, we have trade unions, discrimination laws, labor rules and regulations, and the right to sue when we feel we have been treated unfairly.

In the kingdom of this world, our Lord Jesus’s story sounds like a defense for crooked bosses, for mistreating workers, for sowing the seeds of dissent by paying the hardworking and the loyal the same salary as the lazy and shiftless.

In the kingdom of this world, God is a lousy boss and a terrible businessman.

But our Lord’s Kingdom is not of this world. God’s ways are not our ways. The owner of the vineyard is indeed not paying the laborers what they deserve – and thanks be to God! For the wages of sin is death.

In our Lord’s Kingdom, not getting what we deserve is not the cause of protest, but of praise. It is not the occasion of a lawsuit, but rather a cause of thanksgiving.

For the grumblers in our Lord’s parable confuse the two kingdoms. They expect the Kingdom of Heaven to work like the kingdom of this world. They see payment for their work to be owed to them. They see any good thing they possess as something they have earned. They see their salary as God’s payment to them for what they deserve.

Such a view of God’s Kingdom is without grace. For if God is only giving you what you have earned, He really isn’t giving you anything at all. If you have earned it, God owes it to you. And if God owes you some benefit, it places you in a position of collecting on the debt God owes you.

Such a view of the universe places the self over God. Such a view removes divine love from the picture and turns God into a payroll program that gets run on a computer.

Unfortunately, many people see God in this way. He is a giant calculator in the sky, the kind that prints debits in black and credits in red, and at the end of the day, they hope to have a balance sufficient to keep them out of hell.

But look at how God gives out the “wages.” Because He is good, because He gives mercy to those we have determined don’t deserve it, we think it is not “lawful” for God to do what He wishes with His things. And that is the problem. All things are God’s things. If He chooses to give to some but not others, it is not for us to tell Him how to distribute His gifts. If He chooses to pay the one who works for one hour in the cool of the shade the same wage as him who slaved all day in the blistering heat, who are we to question Him? Or are our eyes evil because He is good?

For in the kingdom of the world, the first is first, and the last is last. The race belongs to the swift. The gold medal goes to the strongest. The highest pay goes to the smartest and hardest working. The greatest accolades go to the most honorable. But God’s Kingdom is not of this world. His ways are not our ways. As our Lord sums up the parable: “The last will be first, and the first last.”

The Kingdom of God is a topsy-turvy Kingdom in which those who deserve to die are given life, those who have seemingly earned riches are poor, those who claim to have earned a high place in the Kingdom are overtaken by the humble, and those who come to the gates of the Kingdom with empty pockets are exulted.

For the Lord does not pay us the wages we deserve, for we deserve nothing but death and damnation. Rather He pays us the wages we don’t deserve, wages that aren’t really wages at all, but rather gifts – unearned grace.

For in God’s Kingdom, there is no room for self-aggrandizement and boasting. If you possess much in God’s Kingdom, it is because much has been given to you. If you are first, it is because you are last. Every time we draw a breath, it is by God’s grace. For not a single one of us deserves to live another second.

Those who have worked but a single hour in God’s Kingdom should rejoice in the kindness shown to them, that in spite of their short time of labor, the Lord has been generous to them. Those who have worked twelve hours in God’s Kingdom should rejoice in the kindness shown to them, that the Lord has granted them a long tenure of service in the great and glorious Kingdom – not for the reward of money, but rather for the simple joy of serving the great and mighty King of the universe, a joy which is every bit as unearned and undeserved as the full wages paid to those who worked only one hour.

The Gentiles ought to rejoice that God has given them a share in the Kingdom, even though they lack the family history and heritage that ties them to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And the Jews ought to rejoice that they have been given the Scriptures, that they have been chosen as children of the Covenant, from whom the very Seed Himself would spring, to be a blessing to all those on earth.

Neither Jew nor Gentile has a boast in Himself, but both have a boast in receiving a place in God’s Kingdom though both do not deserve it.

God is not a calculator in the sky. Rather, He is the owner of all good things, who shares those good things with those whom He has called and chosen. He is the giver of gifts and dispenser of benefits, the One who cares for us out of divine love and mercy – not simply to pay a salary that is owed. For God is not the debtor, but rather we are debtors. And as we bid in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We whose trespasses have been forgiven should daily pray for God’s mercy, so that we should equally forgive those who trespass against us.

It is truly out of love that our Lord pays us not what we deserve, but rather gifts us with what we don’t deserve. We can either receive His gifts with thanksgiving, or we can grumble at those who likewise receive the same forgiveness. Our Lord Jesus teaches us that the Christian life is life in a Kingdom not of this world. In God’s Kingdom, when the Lord is not fair, we don’t file a complaint with the union or demand the government take action, rather we rejoice in the divine unfairness that pays us not the death we deserve, but rather the life that we could never earn.

Let us not allow our eye to become evil because He is good. Rather let us sing the praises of Him who graciously withholds the wages we have deserved and yet gives us the benefits and gifts that we do not deserve – both now and unto eternity. Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Amen.

1 comment:

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

"God is not a calculator in the sky".

That is a fantastic line - a fantastic image. Well done.